Editorial Left-overs: “Going Down the Valley One by One”

By Connie W. Adams

The inevitable, persistent march of time is depriving us of a whole generation of preachers who have worked in the vineyard for many years. Within the last month (this is being written on March 11) we have said goodbye to three men who left large footprints on the sands of time. Others will write more extensively about each of these men, but I offer here a few words of my own.

Rufus Clifford

This brother was from the Lanton community near Spring Hill, Tennessee. His local work was all done in middle Tennessee, mostly in the Nashville area, but his meeting work took him to many places. When James Arthur Warren was preaching at Taylor Blvd. in Louisville and began to drift into modernism, Rufus Clifford was one of the men who was called in to help set the record straight and oppose the error being taught by Warren. One Sunday morning in 1949, Warren preached that the Bible was in error in reporting that Balaam’s ass spoke. That night Rufus Clifford and J.T. Marlin were called in to refute error and advance truth. The first time I heard brother Clifford was during a tent meeting in Tampa, Florida. His subject was “repentance” and I still re-member the basic outline of that sermon, though that was nearly 50 years ago. His preaching was simple and straightforward, yet it possessed a certain elegance and sometimes eloquence. It was delivered with passion and obvious concern for the souls of men and women. For the last few years he had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He was a Bible preacher. I will miss him.

Grover Stevens

Brother Stevens passed away the same day as brother Clifford. What a remarkable man he was. Having trained to be a Baptist preacher, he learned the truth and obeyed the gospel. He preached many times on “Why I Left the Baptist Church” and published a tract by that title which has been circulated by the thousands. This unique brother had a special way of teaching with directness and plainness of speech, yet with a kind manner that made it difficult to become angry with him. At the barber shop, service station, supermarket, on a plane, or wherever, he did not fail to ask people about their religious convictions and to tell them about the Lord and his church. His work was especially fruitful in Louisville, Kentucky where he spent many years. When he left Taylor Blvd. it was the largest congregation in Kentucky with over 700 members. He preached for a while at Wendell Avenue and then at Park Blvd. which later became Gardiner Lane. He also spent many years in Lubbock, Texas working with two congregations in that city. His longest work there was at Caprock. Meetings took him to many parts of the nation.

I recall an incident when I was in a meeting at Park Blvd. and we called on woman who was in a denomination. Her husband was a Christian. The young women was very prejudiced. She was also in her eighth month of pregnancy. We awakened her from a sound sleep, and she was not in a very good mood. When she found out who we were, she was even more displeased. It was obvious (at least to me) that she was trying to get rid of us as fast as she could, but Grover persisted. Finally she made some general statements such as any good denominationalist would make, and Grover responded directly to it and asked if she had a Bible in the house. She assured us that she did and with that he insisted on coming in and showing her a passage of Scripture she needed to think about. To my surprise, she let us in. The conversation was strained (on her part) but Grover forged ahead. I kept thinking we were going to be invited (or ordered) to leave at any moment. When we did leave, he was all excited and said, “You know, if I can go back over there and show her the distinction in the covenants, I can convert her.” I said, “Grover, if you ever convert that woman, please drop me a note and tell me about it, for I don’t much think you will.” About five weeks later, he sent me a post card which said that he had just baptized that woman the day before. But that was Grover Stevens.

About two years ago we had a meeting at Manslick Road and asked him to preach on first principles. He did so with great skill and compassion. His preaching was Bible preaching. He drew the line between truth and error. He did not back up, or back off, but he did it with kindness whether in the pulpit, on the radio, in the bulletin or in a periodical, or in one-on-one teaching situations.

His last work, at Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, was outstanding. Some of the younger people thought he might be too old for the work, but after a short while, one of them said that brother Stevens was about to work him to death. He died at the building where he was working on material for a class he expected to teach. The large number which attended his funeral bore testimony to the respect in which he was held. Our best wishes are with his wife and children.

Yater Tant

We also mourn the recent death of Yater Tant, son of the legendary J.D. Tant and father of David Tant, well known preacher of the gospel. Known throughout the country for his meeting work, he was even more widely known for his writing. His book about his father, J.D. Tant, Texas Preacher remains a classic. It was as editor of the Gospel Guardian in the I950s and 60s that he became best known.

During a turbulent period in the history of the Lord’s people in this nation, he charted a course that was steadfast and unwavering. With those who resisted the inroads of institutionalism, he became a hero. With those who favored them, he was a hiss and a byword. Few were ambivalent toward him. In the hottest controversy, he maintained his poise, dignity, and sense of humor. His column “The Overflow” was widely read and appreciated and provided barbed humor which produced many a chuckle to relieve what would otherwise have been unbearable tension. His editorials were classics. His writing style was polished and reflected the mind of a well read man.

He was the first to encourage me to write. He published every article I ever submitted to him. When we went to Norway in 1957, he did much to help us locate support and carried ‘many reports on the work there. I attended his second debate with E.R. Harper at Abilene, Texas in 1956 on the Herald of Truth. It had much to do with helping a young preacher see what these issues were all about. During the last years of his editorship of the Gospel Guardian he drew criticism for his suggestion for a “box in the vestibule” to provide a means by which unity could be maintained over contributions to benevolent institutions while the matter was being studied. I was one of those critics, though I never doubted the sincerity of his motives in this. He later edited Vanguard until it ceased publication. While it contained much good material from able men, it lacked the punch of earlier writings. A second effort at the “box in the vestibule” was no better received than the first one. An effort also to reach out to the controversial “Crossroads” church of Gainesville, Florida produced a great deal of criticism. He was much concerned with peace and harmony among brethren. Advocates of institutionalism in the 50s and 60s would take issue with that, but I am confident that his later attempts were motivated by a sincere longing for peace among divided brethren. Someone needs to write an objective history of his work and the times in which that work was done.

The last time I saw brother Tant was about two years ago while in a meeting in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He came one night, listened intently and said when he spoke to me afterwards, “Well, my boy, that had the old Jerusalem ring.”

Every woman who is a Christian would be well served to read the book Nannie Yater which brother Tant published about his mother. It is actually a manuscript which she wrote about her experiences as the wife of J.D. Tant, the Texas preacher.

Helen Tant is in very poor health. Our love goes out to her and to David, in this great loss to that family.

One by one we are losing that whole generation of preachers. We are poorer for it. But none of us can stay the hands of time. Those of us who used to be “young preachers” awaken to the reality that we are now the older generation and that we too will soon be “Going down the valley one by one, with our faces toward the setting of the sun.” What we are going to do, we must do soon. And we must do it well, for we cannot return to do it over.

Guardian of Truth XLI: 10 p. 3-5
April May 1, 1997